Monthly Archives: January 2014

Coffee & White Chocolate

When I was sixteen, and studying for my Home Economics O’ Level, (how twee does that sound?) one of the recipes we tackled was a chocolate and coffee tart. I can still remember learning how to crimp the edges ‘Paul Hollywood’ style and scoffing the lot with my friends after the class.  What I told my mother when I arrived home empty handed I do not know. However, it was the first time I had tasted the combination, and although it was probably instant coffee and Bournville, (which btw, Mary Berry swears by, so maybe I shouldn’t be so sniffy!) and I was hooked. I had only really eaten coffee as a flavouring in a coffee and walnut cake, habitually made every year for my father’s birthday – (strangely served with Maltesers on the side), but coffee creams rapidly became my preferred chocolate choice, taking over from the less classy strawberry, and reflecting my increasingly sophisticated tastes!

A couple of days ago I was intent on making some Brownies using Nespresso coffee when I discovered my chocolate stash empty.  Practically every time I shop I throw a couple of bars in my trolley so that I never run out, so I was upset with myself (or should that be my thieving husband…) for letting supplies run dry. What I did find however, stuck under a bar of unwanted Bailey’s truffle (anyone?) was a slab of white chocolate. I confess I don’t often cook with white chocolate. Not only do I find it a bit sickly, but it’s also really hard to work with  – melting to a thicker and more intransigent consistency than dark chocolate. However, beggars can’t be choosers, and I figured I wouldn’t be melting it in isolation, so I had a search for coffee and white chocolate brownies and found a fabulous recipe on Vintage Kitchen Notes via A Culinary Journey – thank you Paula!  Even better, the white chocolate was not melted but chopped into chunks, caramelising slightly in the baking, which gave these brownies (or strictly Blondies) a gorgeous fudgy texture. They were such a roaring success, that know the recipe will become a regular of mine, so allow me to share it (slightly adapted to what I had to hand) with you now:

INGREDIENTS: Serves 8

100ml Espresso Coffee

180g granulated sugar (gives that thin crispy sheen on top)

180g dark molasses sugar

180g unsalted butter

2 lg eggs, beaten

30ml coffee liqueur (I didn’t have any so I guess it’s optional)

240g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

140g good quality white chocolate, chopped into various size chunks

100g coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts), toasted.

METHOD

–        Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade (350 F)

–        Butter a 10-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

–        Prepare the Espresso coffee and combine coffee and water in a small saucepan and stir until dissolved.

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–        Over a low heat, add sugar and butter and stir until butter melts. Turn off heat and let     mixture cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. You can transfer it to a bowl to speed it up. It’s important to let it cool so that the chocolate doesn’t melt when you add it.

–        Add eggs and coffee liqueur to butter mixture and whisk to combine.

–        Sift flour, baking powder and salt directly onto butter mixture and stir to blend.

–        Stir in chocolate and nuts.

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–        Bake until a tester comes out almost clean, about 35 minutes. Do not over bake or they will be tough. Do not use a square pan like me – it really needs to be a 10 inch tray bake, or your brownies will be a bit dry at the side and undercooked in the middle as the mixture will be too deep.

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–        Cool in pan on a wire rack (see the dry vs squidgy areas?)

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In spite of my pan error, they tasted amazing, and I scooped up the undercooked brownie and stirred it through some vanilla ice cream (300ml double cream, 150 ml full fat milk, 150g icing sugar and I tsp vanilla extract if you have an ice-cream maker).

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Can you believe I shot this ice-cream and then put it back into the freezer? It was only 9am however, and I was still intent on making today a ‘good’ day. . It’s now 4pm and I have failed; in the last hour alone I have consumed 1.5 slabs of the brownie and I can’t be sure how long the other half is going to survive…..

Any favourite coffee pairings you want to share?

Ginger & Salmon

Ginger is my most favourite of the spices – even more so than nutmeg. I love it in stir-fries, biscuits, gingerbread, drinks….the list is endless – as are the flavour pairings. I rarely now make a Key Lime Pie or Lemon Cheesecake without adding ginger to the buttery biscuit base, or a sprig of mint to Schweppes Ginger Ale in the summer (with a squeeze of lime!). I have also added orange zest to ginger biscuits and cake in order to impart an immediate exoticism to the flavour. I am not a fan of every combination however; I do not for example, particularly like chocolate with ginger (I realise I am pretty much alone on this) and I also agree with Niki Segnit’s opinion on ginger with rhubarb. I find the spice overpowers its aromatic berry notes and can think of many other pairings infinitely more suitable to imparting sweetness and flavour (maple syrup and vanilla is especially rewarding).

I have kept ginger in all its forms – fresh, in a jar, tube, powdered, but now my preferred and most convenient form is frozen – thank you Waitrose (although there is nothing stopping you from mincing fresh ginger and freezing it yourself). I also still keep powdered (Bart’s is definitely worth paying more for) and candied ginger for baking (always left over after Christmas, very handily).

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One of ginger’s closest friends, in my opinion, is fish, and specifically, oily fish. My aunt first introduced me to this. She makes a sublime side of salmon, infused with ginger and enrobed in delicate buttery shortcrust pastry shaped and decorated to resemble the fish itself.  It sits proudly on the table, as if the centrepiece of a Regency feast, and is sublime with salad and jersey potatoes.

In homage to that dish (which I confess I am yet to have a crack at myself), and because I had four salmon steaks in need of eating, I decided to make a salmon en croute, which I often do, but this time flavoured with ginger. I also had some lemons which had seen better days, so used the zest to add some subtle citrus notes.

Normally, I would simply wrap the salmon in pastry, and bake, and they are fine, but to add an extra challenge, and because I was interested in whether it would make much of a difference, I decided to bake the bases first.

Ingredients – Serves 4

4 slim salmon steaks

750g butter puff pastry (I confess I last made puff pastry for my O’ level in 1985)

100g cream cheese

I heaped tsp minced ginger

Zest of one lemon

Salt & pepper

Egg for glazing

Method

–       Mix the cream cheese, ginger and lemon together with a pinch of salt and black pepper

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–       Roll out the pastry into a rectangle until 2mm thick

–       This bit is quite tricky: Cut four rectangles, which your salmon steaks will fit in the centre of with a 2cm all round.

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–       Cut another four rectangles 1cm wider all round and put in fridge

–       Place a piece of baking parchment over the pastry and then a pan, or another heavy baking tray which will basically stop the pastry form rising (meille feuille are made this way)

–       Bake in the oven for 10 mins, but check that they are nicely crisp and browned before taking them out)

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–       Cool slightly

–       Strip the skin from the salmon by sliding a knife under the fish and away from you.

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Place a salmon steak in the centre of each strip of pastry and divide the cream cheese mix over the top of each one. Be careful not to put too much on – you don’t want it leaking out. You can always warm any spare cream cheese with a spot of cream and serve as a sauce on the side.

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–       Place the larger pieces of pastry over the top and crimp.

–       Glaze with egg and grind some salt and pepper over the top.

–       Put two tiny slits at each end to allow some of the steam to escape.

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–       Bake for 25 minutes

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I served this with some Charlotte potatoes (sadly Jerseys are a few months away) and garden peas. The bases were incidentally, extra crispy and definitely worth doing for a special dinner (but perhaps wasted on the kids!)

Almond & Raspberry

I love almonds. I love their versatility, adding aroma and texture to my baking, and nutty crunchiness to stuffings, vegetables and curries. Their long shelf life allows me to constantly keep ground, flaked and toasted almonds in my larder and I do tend to be fairly promiscuous with them – especially at Christmas. I rarely bake a batch of mince pies without tucking a ball of velvety marzipan under the mincemeat and will often toss a handful in a skittle with a dash of olive oil and sea salt for nibbles with drinks – the flavour moves from milky to caramel and pairs with olives perfectly.

In baking however, I always add extract. I am often surprised that many recipes don’t suggest this, as I have never achieved that desired pungent almond hit without it. The extract is derived from the bitter almond kernels (but must have its cyanide content removed before it can be consumed!).  Sometimes you may notice an almond flavour in other foods such as cherry drinks, mushrooms or coffee, and that’s the naturally occurring benzaldehyde, the main compound responsible for the flavour.

It’s hard to choose a favourite pairing, but although I love the effect it has on asparagus, ginger, salmon or lamb, I think it’s fruit, and specifically citrus fruits where it finds its soul mate. I love them in a damp lemon polenta cake, sitting above a creamy curd in a Maid of Honour or nudging up against grated orange zest in a fragrant couscous. However, I don’t often pair them with raspberries, and as I feel that this blog should be predominantly about me exploring new flavour pairings or trying new recipes, I decided to try making something which has been on my wish list for a while – home-made Jammie Dodgers, (yes, I have kids!)  but adapted to feature an almond shortbread biscuit. I have added flaked almonds to give texture, and also included 2 tsp of almond extract. I find that almond extract’s flavour can fade during baking, so if you taste the dough (and who can resist?) and think it’s too overpowering, don’t worry – all will be well!

 Ingredients – makes 15

250g unsalted butter

110g caster sugar

100g flaked almonds

2 tsp almond extract

340g plain flour, sifted

450ml jar seedless raspberry jam (I recommend Tiptree as cheaper brands can taste quite artificial)

Pinch salt

 Method

– Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees centrigrade.

– Pulse the almonds in a food processor or grinder to break up to about 1/3 size. You could also put the bag under a tea towel and bash with a rolling pin!

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–  Cream together butter & sugar in a largish bowl until fluffy

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– Add flour almonds and almond extract into the bowl and work together with a spatula (feel free to get your hands dirty!)

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– Roll out between two pieces of baking parchment (about 5mm thick) – it’s a fairly sticky dough at this stage, and it’s way easier to roll like this.

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– Place in the fridge for half an hour. This allows the dough to firm up slightly, allowing for easier cutting and better shape retention in the oven. If you leave for longer, let the dough warm up again slightly before you start cutting, or the dough will crack.

– Using an 8cm cutter, and a smaller shape cutter for the middle (mine are family heirlooms!), cut out equal number of bases and tops. I find if you flour a fish slice, it’s much easier to pick up the pieces without mis-shaping them.

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– With the tops, cut the shape at the same time, pick up with the slice and transfer to your other hand, letting the middle fall out through your fingers.

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– Transfer to a greased baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 8 – 10 mins (they should be just turning brown at the edges), turning the tray half way through to ensure an even bake.

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– After a few minutes, move the biscuits to a wire rack to completely cool.

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– When cool, gently warm your jam in either a pan over a low heat, or in a microwave. This will ensure a very smooth (rather than lumpy) surface peaking though your biscuits.

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– Drop the jam on the base of each biscuit, spreading out to within 5mm of the base. Be quite generous!

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– Sprinkle the top with icing sugar and then place on top of the jam and gently press until the jam is visible at the edges. Try out this whole process first with any that are less than perfect  (and then scoff!)

– Arrange artfully and bask in the inevitable adoration coming your way.

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I was pleased with how these turned out – the biscuit was very tender, and melted in the mouth, while still offering a little crunch from the almonds. If you were baking for a special occasion, or just for the hell of it, you could add a layer of lemony butter icing under the jam….

Potato & Cheese

Not the most exotic flavours with which to begin this blog – but it is incredible how few people know this dish, and I think the chemistry that takes place between these two humble staples to produce such a sublime but simple dish merits its place at the head!

I first ate Aligot in Angouleme on a French exchange trip when I was 16. It was the highlight of an otherwise depressing week eating raw steak and salad – every night. I was seriously doubting the French reputation for fine food when on my last evening, this was served – with chicken and green beans. It was then, and still is, the best potato dish I have ever eaten – challenged only by a creamy Dauphinoise gently whiffing of nutmeg, sampled for the first time 7 years later in a run down hotel in Honfleur.

The key to this dish is the ingredients – good naturally buttery potatoes (I recommend Sainsbury’s Vivaldi), and Cantal – one of France’s oldest cheeses, but very similar to cheddar or Lancashire – both of which I have used to great success. I have also been known to use Gruyère and a chunk of mozzarella, the reason being that unctuous ‘stringiness’ is integral to this dish. Cream, salty butter and a garlic clove are the only other additions. The alchemy however occurs in the final stage, and can make or break the dish if not performed properly! Don’t get freaked out by the use of an electric whisk. In my early days of cooking, I once ruined a batch of mash by whipping it up in the food processor (I thought it was inspired)! The gluey mess that resulted prevented me from ever reintroducing potatoes to electrical devices, but this really does work – partially because the quantity of cheese both arrests the complete bursting of the starch granules, while also creating an irresistible silky texture.

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Ingredients: Serves 4

450g Mashing potatoes

225g Cantal cheese, finely grated

1 fat garlic clove

50g salted butter

150g single cream (or creme fraiche)

salt & pepper

Method

– Melt the butter with the garlic on a low heat and leave to one side to infuse. I use a microplane to mince the garlic as it disperses better, and releases the maximum amount of flavour, which I think is necessary here to balance with the cheese.

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– Warm the cream (I used my Nespresso milk heater) Boil the potatoes until they are very well cooked and mash, preferably with a ricer. The dry them out on a low heat.

– Take off the heat, add the cream, butter and garlic stirring all the time.

– Place the pan back on the heat, and gradually add the cheese, whipping with a hand-held mixer until the potato is quite stiff and glossy.

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– Serve immediately (you can do the cheese at the last minute if you want to pre-prepare)

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I served mine with lamb fillet in a redcurrant sauce, but I have also just eaten it with a green salad, which satisfies its demand to be center of attention!

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Apologies to those for whom January is a month for purging comfort food, but frankly, if there was ever a time for comfort food, it’s January, and this dish fits the bill perfectly.